LOS ANGELES ...J... — LOS ANGELES -- Until this month, Chris Purkiss saw beauty rather than menace in the rugged landscape that surrounds her family's home in suburban Glendora.
But now, after a 6-foot-long, 140-pound mountain lion snatched a Doberman pinscher from the deck outside her bedroom, Ms. Purkiss looks over her shoulder when she walks to her car on the way to work.
"Now I'm looking and making sure there is nothing behind me, even though they say they caught the one who did it," she said. "Nothing like this has ever happened before. It makes you more aware there are animals up there."
While such dramatic run-ins with large predators are unusual in Southern California, increasing residential development and a five-year drought have resulted in a growing number of homeowner encounters with wildlife, experts say.
Some officials say that coyotes, opossums and other species that adapt easily to a wide range of conditions and aren't picky about what they eat thrive more readily under urban conditions than in the untamed wilderness.
"Acre for acre, suburban areas will have a greater [animal] population than an acre of the Angeles National Forest," said Peter Butchko, district supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's animal damage control program.
Animals are not limited to the urban fringes along the foothills and in the Santa Monica Mountains, said Dennis Kroeplin, who traps wildlife for the Los Angeles Animal Regulation Department.
"They're showing up in places you wouldn't expect, down in the flatlands," said Mr. Kroeplin, who last year trapped six coyotes in suburban Woodland Hills after a spate of cat killings in a neighborhood.
In a metropolis defined by freeways and urban sprawl, such encounters take many Southern Californians by surprise -- even though their lush backyards represent an all-you-can-eat buffet from a skunk or raccoon's point of view.
"People move in here, and all they see is a nice house with a view. They never, ever thought about the animals who have lived here forever," said Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Richard Wightman.
The complaints are many. Coyotes kill and eat cats and small dogs. Skunks smell bad and tear up lawns looking for grubs and insects.
Despite the fear they often generate in people, wild animals rarely pose any danger. Only 14 coyote attacks have been reported in Los Angeles County over the past 15 years, including a 1981 incident in which a 3-year-old suburban Glendale girl was fatally mauled.
Mountain lion attacks are even more rare, the only documented instances being two non-fatal attacks on children in Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park outside San Juan Capistrano in 1986.